The Kentucky Resolution

Introduction to the Controversy   Jefferson's Draft   Final Draft

There was some dispute over Jefferson’s authorship of the Kentucky Resolution, mostly due to its implications for nullification and the role of nullification in the Civil War. The Kentucky Resolution states that the “General Government” cannot use any powers not delegated to it by the Constitution and therefore if they usurp reserve powers “its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.” Stating this so forcefully gave Southern State a historical precedent for the idea of separating from the Union if they thought the Government had acted unconstitutionally. Since they had reason to think that the Lincoln would abolish slavery (despite his claims to the opposite) and their economy relied on slavery, they used the Kentucky Resolution to help justify their actions. Jefferson did, however, help author this document out of what Malone calls “excess of zeal in defense of freedom.” Jefferson feared the encroachment of the Federal Government over the states and feared that a loss of freedom would come soon thereafter. As such, he thought it was imperative that the states assert their rights against the Federal Government. In this instance, Kentucky thought the Alien and Sedition Act was unconstitutional due to the unprecedented power given to the Federal Government to restrict civil rights, especially those related to freedom of expression.